On one recent Tuesday morning, about 15 students were gathered in Sherry Grello's homeroom class at Lee Early College to assemble holiday bags containing candy canes, handmade cards, and more.
The bags were to be distributed to other students at the school as well as to members of the community at large. It was just a small effort at kindness, just a simple way for these students to make another person's day better, but it was also emblematic of a new tradition at Lee Early College which is aiming to make service of this type – in projects both large and small – a way of life.
For students at Lee Early College, every Tuesday is an opportunity for this kind of transformation.
“This past summer we were looking at changes to our advisory program,” said Lee Early College Principal Kisha Derr, explaining that students at Lee Early College typically have 30 minutes each day of “advisory time” during which homeroom type activities are usually done – scheduling of classes, working on AVID projects, that sort of thing. “And one idea was to use some of that time to have the students working on service projects.”
That's how LEC's “Transformation Tuesdays” were born. Every Tuesday, that 30 minutes of advisory time is used for students to work on service projects of their own choosing.
“The first chunk of this semester, the students learned what the community's needs are, and what types of projects they're interested in,” Derr said, explaining that projects range from the holiday bags in Grello's class to landscaping efforts on campus, hurricane relief, gathering supplies for the homeless, and more. “We really wanted the kids to have a say in what they did, so they could understand the purpose of service learning. It's important for kids to participate in service projects, especially teenagers. It helps them connect to their community and it's great leadership training.”
Grello said the nature of her class's current project – giving holiday and birthday baskets out to other students – also builds camaraderie among the student body.
“We're a small school, so so much of what we do is about acceptance,” she said. “The birthday cards, the balloons, it builds school spirit.”
Grello, who was hailed by Derr as someone who does plenty of community service herself, including the regular feeding of homeless people locally, said that while some classes took on yearlong projects, her class chose to do something different nearly every week – going for a series of smaller community impacts rather than one big one.
“They thought if they were doing something different every week, it would give them something to look forward to,” she said. “And if they're giving to someone personally, it's a whole different feeling. I think they can think they're too young to make a difference, but this shows them that they really can. And that awareness carries on, and it carries over into good citizenship.”
And Derr said she already sees students responding to this kind of service learning.
“I've had several kids coming up to me independently and ask what kinds of volunteer opportunities there are during the (holiday) break,” she said, listing volunteer opportunities at places like Westfield Rehabilitation and Health Center, HAVEN in Lee County, and others. “But what's good about the projects they do in class is that it's not adults saying to them 'you should do this or that.' It was us asking them what they can do to help the community, and this is what they came up with. This is all them.”